Through the first five weeks of the 2016 NFL season, things haven’t exactly been encouraging for fans of the Cincinnati Bengals. Sure, the team squeezed out a win against the currently 1-4 New York Jets and put on a dominating performance over the also 1-4 Miami Dolphins. But, when playing potential playoff teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, and Dallas Cowboys, the Bengals have struggled. Last week in Dallas, “struggling” was a nice way to put it. This week, the schedule remains tough as they travel to Foxborough, MA to take on a very good Patriots team that just got their future Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, back from a four game suspension.
The Bengals and Patriots’ history goes all the way back to the old American Football League. The Bengals were only part of that league for the final two years, but did play the Patriots, located in Boston at the time, in both of those seasons. They lost both games in pretty unspectacular fashion, as you would probably expect out of an expansion team facing off against one of the founding members of the league.
But, the final meeting between the Cincinnati Bengals and Boston Patriots took place after the NFL-AFL merger. The Bengals absolutely annihilated the Patriots in the process. They won by a score of 45-7 in what was one of quarterback Sam Wyche’s best games. Wyche was 7/14 passing for 91 yards and recorded 63 rushing yards on 6 attempts. He also had 2 passing touchdowns and 1 rushing touchdown and a 110.4 quarterback rating. It was the final game of the season, and it was Wyche’s best game of the regular season.
Backup quarterback Virgil Carter did come in for a portion of the game and was absolutely perfect, completing all three of his passes for 96 yards, a touchdown, and a quarterback rating of 158.3.
After that season, the Patriots packed their bags and left Boston for the roomier Foxborough. For a few weeks in the 1971 offseason, they were briefly the Bay State Patriots. But, by the time they got around to playing the Bengals again in 1972, they had chosen the now iconic New England moniker.
For the next five years, the Bengals beat the snot out of the Patriots every time they played. But, they began a losing streak starting in 1978 that lasted until 1986. They won a few games in the late 80s and early 90s, but since 1992 it has generally been all Patriots as the Bengals have only won two of the 10 games played against New England in the last 23 years.
One of those wins was a season-defining victory for the Bengals in their division championship 2013 season. Having just dropped a tough 17-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns on the road the week before and falling to 2-2 on the season, the Bengals came out against a New England Patriots team that had made it to the AFC Championship in both of the prior two years, would make it again that year, and have continued to make it every year since.
There wasn’t a lot of offense to speak of in that 2013 13-6 win for the Bengals. Both Andy Dalton and Tom Brady only threw a single touchdown on the day and were sacked four times each. Luckily, the Bengals’ running game picked up the slack enough to put together 154 rushing yards and a fourth quarter touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis that gave the Bengals the cushion they needed to put the game away.
The win began a four-game winning streak for the Bengals and was part of a surge after the slow start that saw them win 10 of their last 14 games. Things were ugly once they got to the playoffs, losing to the Chargers by a score of 27-10. But, the win was part of an overall push for the Bengals that allowed them to gain some confidence and announce themselves as contenders.
Unfortunately, the most recent game between the teams resulted in a completely different outcome for the Bengals. Cincinnati got the 2014 season off to a hot start, winning their first three games in impressive fashion. But, in Week 4, they traveled to Foxborough and were handed a rough 43-17 loss. The Patriots jumped out to a 14-0 lead before the Bengals managed to even put a field goal on the board in the middle of the second quarter.
The 11 point deficit looked manageable with the Bengals’ offense finally starting to look like they could put together respectable drives. But, a Patriots field goal, a Bengals fumble, and another Patriots field goal made the score 20-3 at the half. The Bengals and Patriots traded punts after the half before the Bengals put up their first touchdown of the game. The score was now 20-10 so things were looking up. But, defensive breakdowns and another costly turnover saw the score elevate to 34-10. The Bengals would score again, but the their general offensive ineptitude and two more Patriots field goals essentially sealed the game’s fate.
“I remember last time we went up there and it was not fun,” Jeremy Hill said this week when looking back on the game via ESPN. “It was not fun to be a part of and I think everyone on this team remembers that.”
Heading into this week’s match with the Patriots, the Bengals are actually in a much more similar position to what happened in 2013 rather than what happened in 2014. In 2014, the Bengals were riding high and coming up on a 2-2 Patriots team that had just received a blowout 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Needless to say, New England was hungry for respect. In 2013, it was the Bengals who were hungry for respect after a slow start, as they are now.
The main difference is that the Bengals played in Foxborough when they lost in 2014 and in Cincinnati when they won in 2013. It’s hard to say exactly what will happen in a game between two very talented teams this year. But, with the way the Bengals have been playing lately and home-field advantage going to the Patriots, it’s no wonder the Patriots are eight point favorites this week. That said, a win would spark a lot of confidence for a Bengals team in desperate need of it after a pathetic loss to the Dallas Cowboys one week ago. If the Bengals pull off the win, it would go down as one of the biggest wins throughout the two franchises’ mutual history.